Learn what an acquiring bank is, how it compares to an issuing bank and a payment processor, and why you need one to accept payments.

For your customer, a transaction requires a tap of their card and it’s over in a few seconds. But behind every payment is an intricate relay between financial institutions, made possible with your acquiring bank.

Acquiring banks process payments for merchants.

When your customer submits their payment card details, your acquirer initiates a request to authorize the payment. It goes to the customer’s bank via the networks of the credit and debit card schemes. When the transaction is authorized, the acquirer retrieves the funds. If it’s not authorized, your acquirer tells you why.

Acquirers must be licensed by local financial regulators and card schemes to relay transactions. They get this license through a long and complex administrative process, which involves compliance with financial institution regulatory requirements, as well as card scheme requirements.

This is why merchants work with an acquirer to process payments for them in exchange for a fee.

Note: An acquiring bank may also be called a ‘merchant acquiring bank’ or a ‘merchant acquirer’. They’re commonly referred to as ‘acquirers’.

Acquiring fees

The acquirer charges a fee, sometimes referred to as a merchant discount rate. This fee is typically a percentage per volume of transactions.

Where it gets complicated is that your total transaction costs, often charged by the acquirer, can be broken down into several different fees. These fees are charged by various other parties in the transaction flow.

These other parties are mainly card schemes and issuing banks, that charge scheme fees and interchange fees respectively. Other parties might also be contracted that charge fees for transaction related services, such as authentication (3D Secure)risk managementtokenizationpayment terminals, and gateway services.


Note: If your payment service provider (PSP) is also your acquirer, the PSP might charge these fees.

Some acquirers don’t disclose which fees go to which party and charge a flat fee on all transactions. This is called a blended pricing model, which makes it easier to understand how much you’re being charged, but is less transparent about what you’re paying to which party.

Other acquirers break down which fees on your invoice are shared with other parties. This is referred to as an Interchange+Interchange++, or pass through pricing model. The advantage of these more transparent pricing structures is that you only pay what the other parties actually charge. With blended pricing you usually pay a fixed rate.

When choosing an acquirer, it’s important to understand the breakdown of all these costs, so that you know whether you’re getting a fair price for a particular service.

In the simplest terms: you, as a merchant, will usually work directly with a payment service provider (PSP) but you’ll receive money from your acquiring bank.

In a bit more detail, this is how the different roles interact in the transaction flow:

You’ve accepted a payment online or in store at a point of sale device through your payment service provider (PSP). The transaction is in motion. What happens now?


  • Your PSP connects to an acquirer processor that sends a request to the card scheme to authorize the payment.

  • The request goes to the issuing bank.

  • The customer’s bank checks if enough cash or credit is available to complete the transaction.

  • When the payment is authorized, the acquirer will retrieve the funds. The acquirer reserves the funds (minus the cost of transacting) in the merchant account they set up for your business. Within the next few days, the money is transferred to your company’s account.

  • If the payment isn’t authorized, the acquirer is notified and communicates why it was declined.


With all these different roles involved, it can be complicated to unpick which party is responsible for what service in the transaction flow.

For instance, a PSP can help you accept payments, as well as offer acquiring services through a third party. This can be convenient, as you only need to manage one provider for your payments, but it can also make it difficult to understand which acquiring bank and acquirer processor is behind the service of the PSP


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